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Pakistan Connection Seen in Taliban's New Tactics

July 28, 2005|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

ASADABAD, Afghanistan — Telephone and power lines haven't reached the villages clinging to the craggy mountainsides of Kunar province. Digital phones and computer chips are even further beyond the shepherds' imaginations.

So when sophisticated bombs detonated by long-range cordless phones began blowing up under U.S. and Afghan military vehicles on mountain tracks, investigators knew they had to search elsewhere for the masterminds.

Afghan officials immediately focused on nearby Pakistan and its military, whose Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped create the Taliban in the early 1990s and provided training and equipment to help the Muslim extremists win control over most of the country.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf joined the Bush administration's war on terrorism and publicly turned against the Taliban immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks. But Afghan officials allege that Taliban and allied fighters who fled to Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 are learning new, more lethal tactics from the Pakistani military at numerous training bases.

"Pakistan is lying," said Lt. Sayed Anwar, acting head of Afghanistan's counter-terrorism department. "We have very correct reports from their areas. We have our intelligence agents inside Pakistan's border as well.

"If Pakistan tells the truth, the problems will stop in Afghanistan. They say they are friends of Americans, and yet they order these people to kill Americans."

At least 38 U.S. troops have died from hostile fire in Afghanistan this year, higher than the annual combat death toll for any year since the invasion.

Musharraf has denied that his military supports the Taliban or any other Afghan insurgents and the Bush administration and U.S. military spokesmen continue to praise Pakistan's role in combating terrorism.

Pakistan's army recently added 4,000 troops to the 70,000 soldiers patrolling the rugged, nearly 1,500-mile, border between the countries in what it says is a determined effort to stop infiltrations of Afghanistan.

Pakistani Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, a military spokesman, said it was ridiculous to suggest that Pakistan had a secret operation to train insurgents to build complex electronic bombs.

"This is just a figment of some absurd mind, nothing else," Sultan said.

High-tech bombs similar to those being found in Afghanistan have killed Pakistani soldiers too, he said. More than 250 Pakistani troops have died in border operations in the last year, Sultan said.

"We haven't found any sanctuary, so far, where such items probably could be made," he said, adding that Pakistan's military didn't know where the sophisticated bomb-making technology was coming from.

Anwar, the Afghan official, who has worked in intelligence for 27 years, acknowledged that there was no smoking gun linking insurgents in Afghanistan to Pakistan's military intelligence.

Yet despite the Pakistani military's assertions, increasing numbers of guerrillas are crossing into eastern and southern Afghanistan, Anwar and other Afghan officials said.

"Last year, the enemy wasn't able to attack our checkpoints or plant so many mines," Anwar said. "This year, they have become very strong."

Anwar said reports from intelligence agents across the border and 50 captured prisoners describe an extensive network of militant training camps in areas of Pakistan's federally administered North Waziristan tribal area where government forces are firmly in control.

Tauda China, a village in the area, which is home to Pushtun tribes, is the site of one camp where Inter-Services Intelligence agents trained militants, Anwar said. He alleged that there were as many as six other camps in the surrounding valley, which is closed to outsiders and guarded by Pakistani troops and armed Afghans.

"Our agents have been there," Anwar said. "They tried to enter the valley and the soldiers didn't allow them."

Zulfiqar Ali, a Pakistani journalist who freelances for the Los Angeles Times, recently reported that at least some training camps that were closed on Musharraf's orders have been reopened.

The government denies that there are training camps. But Ali, who also writes for the Pakistani magazine the Herald, visited one camp and found armed militants with fresh recruits as young as 13 undergoing 18-day "ideological orientation" and weapons training. Several sources said 13 militant camps had been reactivated in the Mansehra region alone in the first week of May.

Militants said their official funding had continued during Musharraf's ban, but the camps had been abandoned and falling apart until this spring.

"Our transport fleet is back, electricity has been restored and the communications system is in place," a militant guide reportedly boasted to Ali.

The reported reopening of militant training camps in Pakistan coincides with the discovery of the high-tech bombs in Afghanistan.

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